In the late nineteenth century, life became more stable and orderly for most American city dwellers, but not for blacks. Roger Lane offers a historical explanation for the rising levels of black urban crime and family instability during this paradoxical era. Philadelphia serves as test case because of the richness of the data: Du Bois’s classic study, The Philadelphia Negro, newspapers, records of the criminal justice system and other local agencies, and the federal census. The author presents numerical details, along with many examples of the human stories—social and political—behind the statistics.
Lane reveals how social and economic discrimination created a black criminal subculture. This subculture, overlooked by those histories depending on often inaccurate census materials, eroded family patterns, encouraged violence, discouraged efforts at middle-class respectability, and intensified employment problems by adding white fear to the white prejudice that had helped to create it.
Modern crime rates and patterns are shown to be products of a historical culture that can be traced from its formative years to the 1980s. Lane not only charts Philadelphia’s story but also makes suggestions regarding national and international patterns.
Extraordinary… Brilliantly argued… This book is a major innovative work, one that is likely to shape research on the black experience for decades to come.
A tale which…vibrates with humanity and the energy of nineteenth-century urban life… Lane’s use of sources on criminal behavior gives us a privileged glimpse of the complex and fluid life of the late nineteenth-century urban black community, not only the cakewalkers and madams, but political activists and lawyers as well.
The beauty of [Roger Lane’s] book is its relentless specificity. He urges replacing abstract imprecision with a concrete historical process, and in his book, he has given us one… Next to W. E. B. DuBois’ The Philadelphia Negro, a true classic, [this book] is the best documentation of urban history that I have ever come upon.
This is a sophisticated, pioneering effort to estimate the impact of crime on an entire minority group… [Lane’s] argument should create a lively, important debate.
- 206 pages
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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